- Master of Novices (1841-1845)
- Superior (1844-1855) and Missionary
- Provincial and Assistant General (1850-1863)
- His Death (1863)
Born at Mende (Lozère), September 8, 1803
Ordained to the priesthood, September 18, 1830
Oblation at Saint-Just, August 25, 1834 (no. 59)
Died at Maniwaki (Canada), August 9, 1863.
Joseph Ambroise Vincens was born in the city of Mende, September, 1803. In Father Vincens’ obituary, Father Fabre wrote that Father Vincens’ childhood and his youth were spent in humble obscurity. Indeed, we have found no detail concerning this period of his life.
He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Paris in 1823 and left before taking vows. He was then admitted to the major seminary of Aix while Fr. Dalgast, a Sulpician, was superior. Ordained to the priesthood on September 18, 1830 at the hands of Archbishop de Richery of Aix. Abbé Vincens subsequently did different jobs at the minor seminary, especially that of treasurer. He heard about the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, contacted Father Hippolyte Courtès, superior of the house of the Mission and obtained the Archbishop’s permission to enter the Oblate novitiate.
On August 24, 1833, he took the habit at the hands of Casimir Aubert, the Master of Novices in the house of Le Calvaire. He made a very good novitiate. On October 29, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Tempier: “I am delighted that Vincens is not flagging, a few like him would do wonders for you.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1831-1836, Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 471, p. 111) Father Francis Bermond wrote later: “I had the good fortune of making my novitiate with Father Vincens […] I never forgot how edifying he was because of his piety, his regular observance of the rule and his simplicity. He, the priest, put himself on the same level as us to be acceptable to everyone and encourage those who were the weakest…” In the month of June, 1834, the novitiate was established at Saint-Just and it was here that Father Vincens made his oblation on August 25, 1834.
Bishop de Mazenod wanted to appoint him socius to Father Aubert or to send him to be superior at the mission house of Billens in Switzerland, but Father Guigues who had just been appointed superior and founder of the house at Notre-Dame de l’Osier in the diocese of Grenoble, requested and obtained Father Vincens as a co-worker. In recommending him to Father Guigues, Bishop de Mazenod wrote on September 3, 1834: “Father Vincens will back you up to the full. He has been a model of regularity during his novitiate and he has very sound ideas on the duties of his holy state. I name him your first assistant and your admonitor. He is a wise counsellor; go to him for advice.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1831-1836, Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 485, p. 124-125)
Subsequently, several other priests were sent to l’Osier. The community brought the marian shrine back to life and especially preached many missions in the diocese. Father Vincens was usually the one who headed up the missionary teams. Father Fabre wrote: “It is impossible for us to tell the number of parishes that were evangelized, either during the ten years during which he fulfilled the role of first assessor for Father Guigues, or during the other ten years when he held the position of superior. God alone knows the good that was done by his humble servant, who knew how to make fruitful the talents given to him by the Father of the family.”
In 1841-1842, Father Vincens, with the approval of Bishop de Mazenod and Father Guigues, the local superior at l’Osier, founded the Congregation of Oblate Sisters of Mary Immaculate. He drew up their rules, giving them as objectives their personal sanctification, the important work of retreats, care of pilgrims, receiving boarders, etc. In 1868, this congregation amalgamated with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux.
Master of Novices (1841-1845)
In 1841, in order to free up Father Casimir Aubert and to remove the novitiate from Le Calvaire where there was too much noise and activity, it was transferred to Notre-Dame de l’Osier and Father Vincens was appointed novice master. He would remain there until April of 1845. In 1841, in order to give him advice on the formation of novices, Bishop de Mazenod began to write to him regularly and until 1861 sent him at least seventy-six letters which have been preserved.
Superior (1844-1855) and Missionary
In 1844, Father Guigues was sent to Canada in the role of visitor and superior. Father Vincens stepped into his shoes and remained superior at Notre-Dame de l’Osier from 1844 to 1851 and from 1853 to 1855; at the same time, he was pilgrimage director during the summer season and a tireless missionary during the winter.
Bishop de Mazenod considered him a very good missionary, the kind that he wanted the Oblates to be. In this regard, Father Fabre wrote: “Reverend Father Vincens was a man of genuine eloquence, popular eloquence. Consistently lofty in his style, he was always master of the content of his sermons and of the wayin which he expressed it, while at the same time, he had the knack of instructing minds that were ignorant and engaging the minds of the elite. With his simple and astoundingly lucid approach, he immediately captured his audience whom he quickly brought to share his convictions. The immediate most striking impression he made was the depth of feeling he conveyed in what he said, the love for the truths he was proclaiming…”
April 4, 1846 the General Council decided to call the young fathers to Notre-Dame de Lumières during the year for “lessons and exercises in eloquence from the pulpit.” The courses were to be given by Fathers Joseph Magnan and Vincens. In reality, these courses were conducted by Father Vincens at Parménie, near l’Osier, in the course of July and August 1846.
At the General Chapter of 1850, a more ambitious scheme was proposed: to use in the ministry in France only those young fathers who would have spent two years in a “house of preparatory studies and studies specific to the ends of the Institute.” This project was put into operation at Le Calvaire in 1851-1852 with Father Vincens as director and professor of eloquence, Father AdrienTelmon as professor of theology and Father Yves Nicolas as Scripture professor. When, in 1852, the superior of Le Calvaire, Father Aubert was sent to England as provincial, Father Vincens replaced him at Le Calvaire. Among the ten or so students, there was Father Léon Delpeuch who wrote in 1886: “I took the course on missions given by Rev. Father Vincens in 1851-1852. It can be said that it was there that we were given the true traditions of our forbears.” This experience was not repeated in subsequent years. At the 1856 chapter, the decision was taken to re-establish this special course of studies “particularly apt in training the mission preacher.” The course was given at Notre-Dame de la Garde in 1857-1858 and 1858-1859 once again under the direction of Father Vincens, assisted by Fathers Charles Bellon and Jean-Philippe Fayette.
Provincial and Assistant General (1850-1863)
At the General Chapter of 1850, the Congregation was divided into provinces. On July 2, 1851, after the Holy See had approved these changes to the Rules, Father Vincens was appointed provincial for the Northern Province in France. He remained there from 1851 to 1855 and from 1856 to 1861. At the time of its formation, the province consisted of three houses: Notre-Dame de l’Osier, where the provincial had his base of operations until 1855, Nancy and Limoges. During his tenure as provincial, houses were founded at Notre-Dame de Talence in 1851, Notre-Dame de Sion and the major seminary of Romans in 1853, Notre-Dame de Cléry in 1854, Autun in 1858, Paris in 1859 and Angers in 1860.
But Father Vincens was always more the missionary than the administrator. As provincial, the whole of France was thrown open to his zeal. At that time, he worked his way through thirty-five dioceses, especially giving pastoral retreats, but also preaching in seminaries, in the parishes, in convents, especially the convents of the Holy Family of Bordeaux.
After Father Casimir Aubert’s sudden death, January 17, 1860, Bishop de Mazenod announced to the Congregation that his duties as provincial of Midi and as secretary general would be “temporarily assumed” by Father Vincens. This arrangement changed only after the death of the Founder in 1861.
At the General Chapters of 1850 and 1856, Father Vincens was elected third assistant general. It was in virtue of this office that Bishop de Mazenod asked him to remain at Marseilles. In spite of his many trips, Father Vincens attended sessions of the general council as often as he could. The Founder was displeased with him at times because he found him to be too indulgent with regard to Oblates who were weak or lukewarm and also because the assistant general used to bring to the council sessions ideas that were not shared by the Superior General. On November 3, 1853, Father Vincens judged it timely and appropriate to offer an explanation to Father Aubert, the main confidante of the Founder: “From the depths of my heart I am attached to the Congregation. For it, I would give the last breath of my body, but I do not believe that a person is not attached to the Congregation when one is not devoted heart and soul to the Congregation’s Founder. I feel quite comfortable to tell you this because the frankness with which I sometimes expressed myself in council with regard to things I did not like and the restraint that I show with regard to weak subjects in order not to extinguish the smouldering wick may have led people to believe that my thoughts and feelings are different from this. From the bottom of my heart I love our Father General; I love him as a father. I believe in what he says and I believe more in his decisions than in the decisions of anyone else. Therefore, to consult him is not simply a duty for me; it is a need…”
Father Aubert showed this letter to the Bishop de Mazenod, who wrote as follows to his assistant on November 9: “What, in your goodness, you told me in the conclusion of your letter was a balm for my heart, a balm it savoured with inexpressible consolation. Be blessed, my dear son. You know well whether or not I concur in the sentiments which you express; my life is to follow my heart.” Letters to the Oblates of France, 1850-1855, Oblate Writings I, vol. 11, no. 1187, p. 175).
At the 1861 Chapter, we do not find Father Vincens’ name among the candidates for the office of Superior General. Nevertheless, during the last years of the Founder’s life, he had been one of his closest collaborators and among the ones most appreciated by the Founder. That is surprising. Father Fabre might have wanted to explain this when he wrote in Father Vincens’ obituary. “He used to become distracted in the midst of the most absorbing tasks and, in his case, this strange phenomenon took on astonishing proportions.” Father Fabre was unanimously elected Superior General and Father Vincens was elected second assistant, after Father Tempier. Practically speaking, he became Father Fabre’s right hand man and the man upon whom he relied. Father Fabre sent him to Rome in the summer of 1862 to explain to the Pope and a few cardinals the nature of the difficulties which had arisen between the Oblates and Bishop Cruice, Bishop de Mazenod’s successor. It was Father Vincens again who, in December of that same year, accompanied Father Fabre on his first trip to Rome as Superior General.
At the end of January 1863, Father Vincens went to make a canonical visit of the houses in Corsica and, in the month of May, left to make the canonical visit of the Oblates of Eastern Canada. He went with a very full slate of activities: to visit all the houses, give pastoral retreats in Ottawa and Montreal, as well as preach two Oblate retreats.
His Death (1863)
At the beginning of the month of August, he left with Bishop Guigues to visit the Oblates of Maniwaki, an Indian reservation and village north of Ottawa. On Sunday, August 9, he preached at the parish mass and, in the afternoon, expressed a desire to have a swim in the Rivière-au-Désert. He went in the company of Fathers Joseph Tabaret, Louis Babel and Louis Reboul. Fathers Tabaret and Babel remained on shore while Fathers Reboul and Vincens waded a short way into the river that was not very deep. One half hour later, Father Reboul returned to his clothes on the bank and was surprised to find that Father Vincens’ clothes were still there. He believed that Father Vincens had already left the water.
It was only on the following Tuesday about noon that his body was found in the backwater of a falls several kilometres from where he had entered the water.
Funeral services were celebrated at Maniwaki on Wednesday, August 12. Initially, the body was laid to rest in the crypt of St. Joseph’s church in Ottawa; then, in 1892, it was transferred to the cemetery of St. Joseph’s scholasticate. Since 1972, he has been placed in a section reserved for Oblates in the cemetery of the cities of Gatineau-Hull.
In touching terms, Father Fabre announced this sad news to the Congregation in his circular letter of September 8, 1863: “Reverend Father Vincens is no more…; he died far from us who loved him so much we considered him a father, a friend, a confidant… in the country of Canada which he had gone to visit in our name, which he edified by his example, which he made fruitful with the sweat of his apostolic labours, and whose earth is opening up for the first time to receive the mortal remains of one of our fathers. […] We will never see him again; nor will we hear his voice which was the instrument producing such a great number of marvels […] Among all the members of the family, he stood in the first rank as regards his experience, his zeal, his untiring activity and the precious talents with which he was endowed. His robust constitution, his inexhaustible energy, led us to hope that he would live on for many days to come […] Reverend Father Vincens’ death leaves a gap in our ranks that nothing will be able to fill. His life was one long act of dedication to the Congregation, for souls, for everything that brought glory to God. In the measure that it was humanly possible, he lived the perfection of our holy vocation; In everything and everywhere he showed himself a genuine Oblate of Mary Immaculate. May we crown him with the laurels of the merit and holiness which he acquired before God in order to engrave his likeness for ever in our hearts.” […]
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.